July 31, 2016


Harmless Secrets (Fred Kaplan, 7/31/16, sLATE)

The fact is neither side has much to worry about. Even if Clinton put a transcript of the briefing on her personal server or Trump repeated every word of it to Vladimir Putin himself, little harm would be done.

That's because, according to former senior intelligence officials who have helped prepare them in the past, these briefings contain no material classified higher than Secret. And, as anyone familiar with such matters knows, nothing very sensitive is revealed in documents marked Confidential or Secret.

Retired Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA and the NSA, told me in an email that these briefings are "very generalized treatments" designed to give nominees a broad-brush view of the global threats as the intelligence community sees them. Hayden and three other former senior intelligence officials said that, as a matter of policy, these briefings contain no details about ongoing military or intelligence operations. The director of national intelligence, currently James Clapper, prepares the briefings, though the president can set further limits on what they can and cannot reveal.

In the 2008 election, Barack Obama and John McCain were members of Senate committees that routinely received classified material. For that reason, their briefings were held at a level of Top Secret. Yet even so, President George W. Bush instructed then-Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell not to reveal anything about operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Bush also told McConnell that, while briefing Obama, he should brief only Obama. This was in keeping with another rule about these briefings: The nominee's aides cannot attend them unless they already have security clearances. One former senior intelligence official said in an email, "The pre-election secret clearance for the two persons running for office is inferred by virtue of a major party having nominated them as their candidates. Staff members have to earn a clearance the old-fashioned way."

The harm comes from keeping things secret in the first place.  It prevents testing what the government thinks it knows in the marketplace of ideas.

Posted by at July 31, 2016 9:50 AM